I feel one of those rambling (but not angry) rants coming on I’m afraid.
Thanks for throwing this one in, @robert_mcintosh. I had already read the article (I’m a huge fan of the Guardian Long Read series, and this one was of course irresistible!) I thought that as a general introduction to the debate, it’s pretty good, a few dodgy sentences notwithstanding. The writer could also have interviewed some more establishment people for balance (such as Jancis, or our very own @PierreM, or Tim Atkin, for example), rather than relying so heavily on the bloke from 67 Pall Mall.
I voted that I would try a natural wine, but only because I am willing to learn and experience new things, but it’s hardly likely to bring me round to the natural wine cause. It is a cause, and it is a movement. Not all causes or movements have a single leader. But they do have a binding philosophy. Converts who deny this are being disingenuous, and don’t know their history, and they’re doing it because they’re trying to avoid politics, but they are being the very essence of political.
I do like @Ghost-of-Mr-Tallis’s insight that it’s yet another contribution to the desperate rabbit hole of identity politics (super post all round, @Ghost-of-Mr-Tallis, actually) . And I do like @danchaq’s approach to limiting the risk to one glass - I’m with you on that. Although charcuterie - even locally-sourced, artisanal, small-production, high animal welfare standards charcuterie - is quite antithetical to the natural wine err… philosophy.
My humble view, for what it’s worth, is not terribly favourable to the natural wine movement. I do support aspirations to authenticity, and I do think the establishment needs challenging. For sure. But as it happens (something the article doesn’t cover nearly enough), many of the principles of respect for the soil and organic farming and even the bonkers pseudoscience of biodynamics are actually much more widespread than people realise. I’ve lost count of the number of wines that don’t declare themselves to be organic and/or biodynamic and are in fact those very things. Many winemakers have told me, “our wines are organic / we converted years ago to the principles of organic farming / we practice biodynamic farming, but we don’t put it on the label”. The winemakers just don’t like to be part of any wacky movements, while (without contradiction) buying some of their values. They just don’t want these words on their labels, and/or they don’t want the hassle required to achieve organic certification.
Finally, and call me a stickler, but words matter deeply, and I won’t stop complaining about the utterly misleading of the word “natural”. It’s divisive, disingenuous, misleading and unthinking. I know we can’t stop it - it’s stuck now. I’ve heard Jay Rayner rant about this, but entirely from the opposite angle. I’m on his side, but coming at it from the other end. His argument (heard on a podcast) was that everything is natural (because all human activity is natural), and that therefore the term was redundant. However, if this is true, then there is nothing artificial in the world, and the commonly and reasonably held view that human interference in the world (i.e. manipulation of nature to achieve something that if “left on its own”, nature would not produce) is artifice, would not be defensible. Human intervention, while natural to humans, is what artifice is to nature, because it puts things together that nature on its own would never do. Nature seeks entropy, and humans (pointlessly) are constantly battling against entropy. Wine is an excellent example of artifice. All wine is artificial. But there are degrees of artificiality, obviously and clearly.
The lowest intervention wine, while still being recognisably wine, is what interests me. And it is clear that sulphur is one of those interventions (along with planting in rows, tending to vines during the year, pruning, picking grapes at the “right” time, physically carrying them somewhere, putting them in some storage that nature does not grow anywhere, bottling, labelling, distributing, selling, etc. etc.) that we have discovered to be essential to maintaining the integrity, stability, ageworthiness, and basically err… drinkability and deliciousness of wine. So that’s where my tolerance ends - with sulphur. Remove that, and I’m really struggling to be interested. Because 90% of the sulphur-free wines I’ve had have been disgusting and rancid and cloudy and fizzy filth, and believe me, I have an open mind and am interested in tasting and smelling almost everything.